Adil Rashid’s sisyphean task

In Ancient Greek mythology, Sisyphus was said to have been punished by the gods for his craftiness to roll a rock up a hill forever, only when he reached the top to see it roll back down again. Adil Rashid did more than roll the ball on his first two days of Test cricket, but his Sisyphean task wasn’t a mountain, it was a pitch flatter than flat.

0-163 now is the worst debut bowling performance in Test history (in terms of most runs conceded for no wicket, if not the savagery of Bryce McGain’s debut), but he at least was not alone in his struggles. Lesser men than Rashid (i.e. me) would have taken some solace from the fact of Moeen Ali’s struggles.

This at least wasn’t a shambles for him. It wasn’t Bryce McGain at Cape Town, bad shoulder limiting him; slapped around at eight an over, nor was it Simon Kerrigan’s yips at the Oval, or Imran Tahir’s implosion at Adelaide. He simply bowled below average on a flat pitch unsuited to his skills, or those of almost any bowler. The usual bad balls being picked off is one thing, but when Asad Shafiq can go on the back foot to good length balls and repeatedly deposit them to the off-side boundary there wasn’t much Rashid could do.

You could quibble with the details. If he’d landed a perfect length all day, he may have gone at under four an over. I stress, may, this was a pancake of a pitch on which Moeen Ali, whilst not spinning the ball appreciably. If he had a flipper or a harder back-spun spun slider he may have had the chance for LBWs. He may have exposed his googly too early and often yesterday, if I can pick it on TV from behind the bowler’s arm, batsmen will too.

There was a slim silver lining. Rashid did turn the ball… at times. On pitches with a bit more pace, i.e. any pace at all, he’ll pick up wickets, but he’ll also go for runs.

The suggestion that he’s too slow for Test cricket has merit, but is a gross simplification. Behind Saeed Ajmal and Graeme Swann, who always bowled at a brisk pace for a spinner, the next best spinner of the last five years has been Rangana Herath, the roly-poly man who works in a bank, and generally bowls at around the same pace as Rashid. Pace doesn’t matter, it’s whether can take wickets with it that matters.

Herath makes up for his lack of pace with preternatural cunning and supreme accuracy. Rashid, if he’s to succeed, will have to compensate primarily with flight, dip, and spin. A bit more cunning would help too. When the turn he did get bowling from mid-crease on to off stump was comfortably left alone, he could have used the crease more intelligently, bowling more from wide of the stumps to make that turn threaten the stumps more. Whether it was lack of confidence in changing his method or simply not thinking of it, more cunning is needed.

He’d do well to glance at some highlights from Sri Lanka, to see Devendra Bishoo twirling away at the same art as him. Similar of build, and not entirely dissimilar in method, Bishoo took 1-78, conceding his runs at 3.54 an over, despite generally looking threatening. The difference between the two on this occasion was the pitch. Galle wasn’t a dustbowl, but it was just fast enough for balls to turn quickly off the surface, something that couldn’t be said of Abu Dhabi.

For context, the seven unthreatening overs from Zulfiqar Babar and the figures of 3-585 – those of the New Zealand and Australian bowlers in their first innings’ here last year – provide ample proof of how difficult this pitch is for spinners.

It’s easy to forget that Adil Rashid is still learning his trade, every 27 year old leg-spinner is. Leg-spin bowling is difficult. Leg-spin bowling at international doubly so. Leg-spin bowling on a flat pitch in 40 degree heat on debut in the first innings against accomplished players of spin, well that’s a punishment even the Greek gods would have baulked at.

Originally published 14-Oct-2015

Photograh: Ben Sutherland (Creative Commons license)

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